The hyperloop concept was first proposed by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk in a white paper describing an alternative to ‘two-dimensional’ transportation. Hyperloop involves a pressurised pod containing people, a vehicle or cargo being catapulted at aircraft speeds through a vacuum tunnel beneath or above road traffic. In theory, this could reduce cross-country and international journeys to a matter of minutes. In reality, however, experts have raised serious legal, logistical, economic, and safety issues relating to the concept.
In July 2017, Virgin Hyperloop One became the first (and so far, only) company to demonstrate the technology at scale. The company accelerated a pod to over 100km/h in a 500m vacuum tube at its facility in Nevada, causing it to levitate for a few seconds before braking. The company proposes that its own version of hyperloop technology could accelerate pods up to 1080km/h through depressurised tubes.
Now, Virgin Hyperloop One has revealed its agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Economic City Authority. Together, they will carry out a study to build the longest test and certification hyperloop track (35km in lnength), and establish an R&D centre and hyperloop manufacturing facility north of Jeddah, at King Abdullah Economic City.
A paper on the economic impact of the ‘Hyperloop Centre of Excellence’ will be prepared, and experts from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology will visit the Virgin Hyperloop One testing facility in Nevada in order to conduct a technical review and prepare a paper.
“Our partnership with Virgin Hyperloop One is a matter of pride for us and all of Saudi Arabia,” said Mohanud A. Helal, Secretary General of the Economic City Authority. “As we continue to help deliver the strategic pillars of Vision 2030, technology transfer and high-tech job creation opportunities that this relationship will bring are fundamental to our progress as a nation and our efforts to create opportunities for our bright young people.”
Helal added that the test track at King Abdullah Economic City would be a “catalyst for a Saudi Silicon Valley effect”. Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Jay Walder said that a hyperloop in Saudi Arabia could allow the oil-rich kingdom to become a “global transportation powerhouse”.
According to a statement, hyperloop transportation would dramatically shorten journey times and improve connectivity across the Gulf, with a journey from Riyadh to port city Jeddah taking 76 minutes (compared with 10+ hours currently), and a journey from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi, UAE, taking 48 minutes (compared with 8.5+ hours currently).
Virgin Hyperloop One has also signed a deal with the government of Dubai to construct a hyperloop which could connect the city with Abu Dhabi.